Art always has a purpose. Whether it is made with a specific intent or not, meaning will be derived from it. Animation is no different in this sense. Some may see animation as purely a form of entertainment, but each part of an animation is the product of hard work and careful thought. All animation, whether it is a children’s film with some message about friendship, or an adult film riddled with sex, drugs, and violence giving some indistinct meaning implying hidden truths about our society, has a purpose. Even in the yesteryears of animation, art was created with a purpose in mind. When John Halas and Joy Batchelor took on the task of creating a film adaptation of the popular novel Animal Farm, they went to great lengths not to distort the message within the writing but to strengthen it through animation. For this, they hired many artists, used cutting edge production methods for that time, and used their knowledge in graphic design to make “Animal Farm” one of the top animated films to come out of England.
Animal Farm was the first full animated film to be released in Britain. It was an animated adaptation of George Orwell’s book Animal Farm written in 1945. The film was directed and animated by John Halas and Joy Batchelor done using full cel animation with the color being done with Technicolor. The film was produced during the Cold War, and its intention was to display the evil that existed in the Communistic form of government that was prominent at the time as a result of the Russian revolution. The film itself was created with the intention of showing viewers world-wide the corruption of Communism, and why it is destined to fail as it does in the film.
It was revealed by John Hunt in his story “Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent” released in 1974, that the CIA had actually funded the production of the film. This was further supported by Daniel Leab in his story “Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of ‘Animal Farm’ ” that the CIA’s involvement was in fact true. Through his research of the film, Leab identified a man by the name of Louis de Rochemont as being a central figure behind the production of “Animal Farm.” Rochemont was apparently well connected with federal agencies and was tasked by the CIA’s Office of Policy Co-Ordination to create the film. It was at this time that Rochemont hired Halas and Batchelor to create the film. Halas and Batchelor were hired for a number of reasons. They had extensive backgrounds in production of war related works, such as propaganda films, helping to make them more politically accurate. It was for this reason that Rochemont considered them to be more ,”…politically reliable…” than American animators. They were also much cheaper to hire than American animators. (Hoberman)
Louis de Rochemont chose to have Halas and Batchelor create his vision of an animated film adaptation of the popular George Orwell book, Animal Farm (Leab). This choice came long after his original plans to make the film since his “survey of the world’s cartoon studios … had not produced one he could trust” (Leab). The decision was, in Joy Batchelor’s opinion, solely due to working with Lothar Wolff, a film editor and assistant producer who had personal connection to de Rochemont (Leab). Halas and Batchelor produced storyboards and sketches, which allowed De Rochemont to obtain rights to create the film adaptation of Animal Farm, and the contract was signed in October 1951 (Leab). The original contract called for “Delivery of a Completed Print” at the end of 15 months, on May 15th 1953, but the film exceeded that date and was delivered in November of 1954 (Leab). Additionally, the contract required that under no circumstances was the film to exceed sixty-eight minutes, but the finished film came to a total of seventy-four minutes (Leab). For the film, £84,355 Sterling was to be made available with an additional £1,999 Sterling to cover the cost of any time over the original sixty minutes, but in the end, the production exceeded more than double this amount (Leab). In the end, Halas reported the delay as to being caused by “political differences” and the lost of two “rather hard to replace people” (Leab). Perhaps the many delays in the production of the film helped to make Animal Farm into the masterpiece that was released.
The film was created with the use of full cel animation. Full cel animation is perhaps the most time consuming form of animation. Cel animation is defined as when,” A cel is the transparent sheet of plastic upon which final animation artwork is transferred in order to be painted in and then laid over a background and filmed.” (Sanders). Cel animation requires great attention to detail and patience on the part of the illustrators. A benefit of cel animation is that the transparency of the layer of cel used is that it allows for the use of composite images. For example, say there is a scene in the film such as in the dark barn when farmer Jones returns drunk. The background itself is predominantly black with only limited features of the animals being shown such as the cow’s heads. This can also be applied to scenes which may require movement of characters through a simple landscape. In this scenario, the landscape will act as the main image with the cel layer having the illustrations of the animals drawn over it, eliminating the need to redraw the background. This method was used in the film because it was at the time the most prominent form of animation and was far before there could be any significant advantage available through an implementation of technology.
The negatives of using cel animation are far greater in number than the benefits. This number exists mostly in the amount of images which actually are required when doing cel animation. Referring to the barn scene early in the film, Farmer Jones is carrying a lantern with him. As he walks, the effects of the light cast from the lantern expose more detail in the setting revealing more detail as it comes into frame. This eliminates the ability of the illustrators to redraw the scenes as they have to implement the change in the lighting of the setting and its characters. This is where the attention to detail on the part of the illustrators comes into effect. They must be sure that each frame is identical to the last. After they have drawn each frame, they must photograph each one by one. Cel animation also at this current time was dangerous as the nitrate cels, “…which are not only prone to decay, but quite flammable,” (Sanders) ,posed a threat to the artists using them.
Animal Farm also implements the use of Technicolor. Technicolor was developed originally in 1916 by Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott. Before this, the original method of adding color was the Kinemacolor which was developed in 1908. When using the Kinemacolor, the process involved, “…tinting and toning black and white release prints, hand stenciling frames and utilizing complicated additive color systems that required special projectors.” (Haines). There are a few different forms of Technicolor, the first form developed was two-strip Technicolor. Two color technique, when it was first created, was only able to pick up the colors of red and green. According to the author, Richard W. Haines, the two color camera developed by Kalmus, Comstock, and Wescott showed only, “minor improvements over what was already available.” The key difference between the Kinemacolor camera and the camera Kalmus developed was that the camera developed by Kalmus displayed frames simultaneously versus successively. This alleviated the issues of “fringing” that occurred with Kinemacolor cameras. The original process was called “additive color” and was done with, “…a new camera that would take simultaneous exposures of the same image through two color filters , on red and the other green.” (Haines).
The second method developed in the Two Strip technique was the Two Strip Cemented Positive. This method, “…was subtractive rather than additive: the hues were contained on the release copy rather than added by filters on the projectors.” The new camera which was used, “exposed the dual red and filtered black and white negative images simultaneously. ”(Haines). This method was not directed by Kalmus himself, but a former pupil of his by the name Leonard T. Troland. For print releases, “…a special film stock was used…known as a matrix. A matrix was a black and white positive stock that contained silver halides (which generated the latent image) and a gelatin that hardened during development and replicated the latent silver image in “relief.” (Haines). The two matrices used were, “…cemented together and dyed…with the appropriate red-orange and blue-green dyes to make a two color release print…” (Haines). With these new improvements, Technicolor was able to make a deal to create the first film using the Two Style Strip Technique titled “Toll of the Sea.”
The final form of the Technicolor camera that was developed was the Three Color Strip in 1936. This camera differed from the previous in that it picked up red, green, and blue whereas the original was only able to pick up red and green. With the creation of this new camera, a full range of colors were able to be displayed in photos. According to Haines, Kalmus approached Walt Disney about, “…shooting a three color cartoon.” This idea appealed to Walt Disney, and the two began development on a process which would be known as the “successive exposure method” which would work only for animation. The process followed as, “On each roll of black and white negative, the animation cels were photographed on three successive frames filtered to emit the red, green, blue spectrum of color in silver densities.” Afterwards, “A step printer would be used to derive the three matrices…exposing every third frame of the black and white negative. The red, green, and blue matrices were dyed with their complementary colors- cyan, magenta and yellow- and transferred onto the same blank stock used in the two strip process.”( Haines). This was the first animated film done in Three Strip Technicolor, and it was a success. This would lead to many films over the next twenty or so years to use Three Strip Technicolor in the animation of their movies such as Animal Farm. For Animal Farm, Three Strip Technicolor was without a doubt used because it was the most effective method available at the time for colored animation.
The use of Technicolor in cartoons was credited with giving them more realistic and 3-dimensional appearances. It did, however, have negatives in its production. The first issue occurring with the initial Two Strip Technique with, as Haines described their being “little improvements” over the color quality that was then presently available with the Kinemacolor camera. An issue was also present in the operation of the camera as it required a degree of “technical expertise” on the part of its operator and, “As a result, severe color fringing was apparent.” The Two Strip Technicolor Cemented technique, while it was an improvement over the original method encountered several issues of its own. The Cemented Technique’s first issue came with its black and white negative stock which, as Haines describes, “…was slow and required extensive lighting for exposure. As a result, the actors partially baked under klieg lights.” (Haines). The worst issue, “…was when the cemented films started to come apart. The standard illumination for projectors at the time was the carbon arc lamp house. A burning carbon filament generated the high intensity white light, which proved to be too extreme for the cement to hold.” (Haines).
What’s quite shocking about the way the film was produced is the amount of effort and detail required when using cel animation. Given the time the piece was produced it is understandable taking into consideration that the technology available was limited. Given the length of the film, the illustrators clearly took great pride in their work by having the patience to make some hundreds of thousands of images drawn for the film. In regards to Technicolor cameras, it’s surprising to see the actual dangers and issues had when being used. As it was said by Haines, the dangers ranged from actors being exposed to high intensity lights due to the films need for “…extensive lighting for exposure.” There was also the use of the carbon filament, which proved to be flammable when exposed to these lights.
The design in the film Animal Farm is unique compared to other films of the time. The backgrounds are somewhat detailed, painted backgrounds with simple, cel-shaded characters, not uncommon for films of that time. The main characters, being the animals, are shown as outlines with very little internal color variance or detail. Most of the humans shown during the film have very rounded heads, as do the pigs, which later helps in showing the similar characteristics between the pigs and their behavior and the humans and their behavior. Perhaps this simplicity could be from John Halas’s study in Bauhaus and Joy Batchelor’s early work in graphic design (Leab). The characters move in ways that one would expect to be the natural way that animal moves. During much of the film, the animals are always grouped together, showing a connection between the animals that are the workers and the distance from the pigs that preside over them. The color palette of the film is largely made up of grays and browns, giving the farm and entirety of the film a very dreary and serious overtone. Additionally, shadows are used to give a foreboding feeling of things yet to come and to darken the interior and exterior of many of the buildings, continuing this bleak feeling. Buildings are then often distorted to represent the low perspective of the animals and their low position in their society. Dark colors are also used to show weapons and objects representative of humans, vilifying them. The dogs, which start out as gray puppies early in the film, become these black, corrupted servants of the pigs, symbolizing their dark purpose of acting as soldiers and killers for Napoleon. To further solidify the idea that the pigs were some evil entity, during many scenes, the pigs are given menacing fangs that are not necessarily present in other parts of the film. Fire, which is rarely used in the film, is given a sort of wild appearance, with loose, ever-changing shape and loose coloring, symbolic perhaps of the revolution that previously ensued or the society to which they created and subjected themselves to. Due to the largely political topics of Halas and Batchelor’s early films, they were prepared to animate a film adaptation of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century (Leab).
One of the largest aspects in the design of this film however, is the motion. Character motion is rather consistent throughout the film, excluding a few small segments such as the revolt in the beginning where the animals move with the background music. However, Animal Farm features an abundance of z-axis motion, which is not commonly used as moving a character along that plane requires many more cels that cannot be reused which is more costly. Also uncommon is the use of camera movement techniques often used in live action film rather than animation. The film uses profuse amounts of fast panning shots that give it a jarring effect but also a sense of immediacy to whatever is being panned to. Zooming is also used to both draw attention to a specific object or character in a scene and to enlarge the scope of the scene to what is happening around it. A less common camera term known as rolling is often used in which the horizontal plane of the scene if moved so that it is at an angle, giving the scene an unsteady feeling. This is often used in Animal Farm to show conflict, especially during scenes of revolution and uprising. Halas and Batchelor wanted to ensure a unique style for Animal Farm.
During the time of Animal Farm, America was the foremost leader in animation, with Disney at its head. However, while Disney created “cozy, nursery-like anthropomorphism” with animations such as Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, Halas and Batchelor wanted to create a more serious film adaptation of George Orwell’s book, with deeper meaning than some childish moral (Leab). During the 1940s, the couple made films with artists that were more abstract in nature, but they chose to go a more representational route with Animal Farm (Leab). Although Halas and Batchelor were very proud to be one of the lead animation teams in Britain, they had to succumb to the fact that they needed American help and hired two American animators during the filmmaking process (Leab). Phil Stapp had previously worked with Joy Batchelor on a separate film and was brought in on this film during the beginning stages of production and created over 200 sketches for the film, but left shortly afterward (Leab). Another American was also brought in later during the process named John Reed (Leab). John Reed led on some of the key aspects of the film, including timing of the sequences and the animation of Farmer Jones’s drunkenness, but was forced to leave after receiving criticism about his cute, bright yellow duckling, seen early in the film, being too Disneyesque (Leab). Although John Reed made a large amount of contributions to the piece, others in the studio felt that the production was going to be too “Americanized” and so he resigned (Leab). Although his contribution was significant, the film was to have a serious overtone that he could not produce.
In America at the time, Disney and other animation studios created their own works with light-hearted messages on topics that were mostly presented in some humorous way. They used dark colors, but only sparingly, choosing a lighter color palette most of the time so as to keep the animation upbeat. The same design styles were used with characters, rather simple with few colors and detail, but they featured more anthropomorphic animals as opposed to the animals in Animal Farm that we clearly understood as animals, separate from humanity. And although Disney may have frightening characters, because of the outlandish circumstances in which we find those characters, we do not find them as terrifying as dogs or pigs with fangs, ripping flesh from bone and the animators blatantly showing blood where in children’s films, this would likely not be the case.
In order to understand the symbolism of the film one must look back to the film’s origins and dissect what George Orwell was trying to portray in his book. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was really a massive allusion to the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism. The Russian Revolution began in 1917, during that time civil unrest was rampant throughout Russia. Most of its citizens were fed up with the growth in government corruption and the failing rule of Czar Nicholas the Second. Adding to the outrage was the Russian participation in World War 1. The Russian empire had suffered more casualties than any other nation participating in World War 1. Through all this civil unrest, a revolution was bound to happen. In 1918 Czar Nicholas the second and his family were killed and buried in a hidden location by Bolshevik forces, these revolutionaries were led by a Bolshevik party leader named Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was an avid believer of the Marxist principles created famously by the author and creator of communist related ideas, Karl Marx. Based on these teachings, Lenin created another government supported by his Bolshevik party and made himself the head of this new government. They were also known as the Red Army.
Lenin however would not remain unchallenged. During the period of 1918 to 1920 the pro-Bolshevik Red Army engaged in civil war with the anti-Bolshevik White Army that were currently in power. Both parties experienced heavy casualties but in the end the Red Army came out on top. The Russian Revolution was over and the previous Russian Empire fell under the control of Lenin and his Bolshevik revolutionaries. The Russian Empire was no more, Russia was now the USSR.
What followed after Lenin’s legacy soon became the downfall of the USSR. When Lenin died there was a power vacuum within the Bolshevik party, it ended in a political battle between two of Lenin’s most profound followers, Stalin and Trotsky (History). Trotsky followed Lenin’s principles of giving more power to the people and letting them to work together to build a stronger government without all the power going to one individual. Stalin however, was more concerned about using the power vacuum to gain control of Russia and claim the empire for himself. He launched a devastating propaganda campaign against his rival Trotsky. This damaged his good name and labeled him as a traitor to the people of Russia. Stalin eventually banished Trotsky and took complete control of the USSR (History). Stalin led the USSR with an iron fist, he would use mass amounts of propaganda to keep the people docile by portraying himself as the hero of the people. One of his most notable mistakes was his Five Year Plan. The idea was to follow in the steps of the other European nations and turn the nation into an industrial powerhouse. However, still recuperating from both the casualties and devastation of World War 1 and the Russian Revolution, the people could not meet Stalin’s needs. Hundreds of thousands starved to death, anyone who dared to even think of opposing was sent to the gulags, Stalin’s prisons, never to be seen again.
George Orwell accurately described the events of the Russian Revolution as well as the madness that happened after. Each animal represented an important person or group of people that were in someway, significant to the Russian Revolution. It was through these characters that Orwell was also able to make fun of the events that happened throughout history and showed how much the nations of the world had messed up in trying to contain the effects of this revolution. This kind of literature showed the true failure of communism and how it would never succeed in the long run.
The CIA saw the story that Orwell created as a perfect opportunity to aid their propaganda campaign against the Communist Party during the Cold War. They saw the political figures they were trying to take down in the faces of these creatures. Deciding that this would make a great addition to their propaganda campaign against Communism, the CIA did what they do best, they threw money at a project and hoped for the best. The CIA put a couple of its significant members to head the project. The realized this book would be fairly easy to turn into a cartoon-like animation because of the characters being animals, and during that time in animation, talking animals were very popular during that time. One such member belonged to the CIA’s psychological warfare division, Howard Hunt. He was given control over the production of this film and where the CIA’s money would go. Oddly enough Howard Hunt was also one of the members who broke into Watergate during Nixon’s presidency, and his scandal. Hunt had a contact in Hollywood named Carleton Asop who was currently working undercover. Once they received the rights from Mrs. Orwell the CIA set to finding a team to produce the animation.
The producer of this film that Hunt selected was Louis De Rochemont. Part of this was due to Rochemont’s previous work with political based films. He worked on a anti-Nazi films during the late forties so the idea of creating a propaganda based film for the US government was nothing new. The animators chosen for this film were chosen by Rochemont instead of Hunt because of knowledge of the world of cinema so Hunt left it to him to choose someone capable enough to lead the eighty animators it took to make this film (Cohen).
John Halas and Joy Batchelor created the animated film adaptation of Animal Farm (Haves). The initial release date of the film had been in late December of 1954. The two worked together, later creating Halas and Batchelor in 1940 (Cohen). They kept busy during the war through training and propaganda, along with other government-sponsored films (Cohen).
Along with Halas and Batchelor, there were a total of about eighty animators working on the production of Animal Farm, including animation director John F. Reed (Cohen). Among others had been A. Humberstone, F. Mosely, E. Raddage, and R. Ayers. Many of the background artists of the project included Dighy Turpin, Matoya Wright, and Bernard Carey.
The layout of Animal Farm had been done by Geoffrey Martin, while sound effects had been handled by Jack King. Halas and Batchelor’s only daughter, Vivian Halas, suggested that the team had been hired to produce Animal Farm because filmmaker Louis De Rochemont had been a good friends with screenwriters and producers by the names of Philip Stapp and Lothar Wolff (Cohen). Both Stapp and Wolff had later joined the team in order to help work on the film’s production (Cohen).
Animal Farm creation is based on political views seen in northern Asia, in the country of Russia, at the time of its creation. The story of both the novel and the film provides a metaphor representing that of the soviet union in Russia, who had been in control of communist rule at the time of the films release (Haves). Animal Farm also portrays the risks of any revolution (Haves).
The film had been released just under ten years after the end of World War II. The original story is set during Joseph Stalin’s rise to power in Russia. Many of the characters are references to real life figures. The leader of the pigs, known by the name of Napoleon, is a reference to Joseph Stalin. The pig by the name of Snowball, on the other hand, is a reference to Stalin’s rival, Leon Trotsky.
While being untrue, the film adaptation became known as the first British animated film ever to be made (Haves). The first was a film known as Handling ships, which had also been made by Halas and Batchelor, which also is the first film to feature technicolor (Haves). Animal Farm is, however, the first British animated film to have been released worldwide (Haves).
At the time of Animal Farms release, the reception of this film did fairly well. The film overall received favorable reviews in the box office (Cohen). However, some critics suggested that people read the book in order to learn about what information was left out (Cohen). Though the film continues to be recommended this day, it is considered to be disappointing amongst critics due to it’s lack of good storytelling (Haves).
Animal Farm gives off the impression of being that of a children’s tale. The story is often classified as that of a children’s book’ with the film being labeled the same (Haves). This is mainly due to the fact that multiple talking animals are present throughout the story, with the original subtitle for the novel being named ‘a fairy story’ (Haves).
The idea that this is that of a children’s tale is false. Animal Farm is not considered a children’s story, due to the adult themes portrayed throughout the plotline (Haves). There are references to alcohol abuse, violence, fighting and executions on multiple accounts throughout the novel and the film (Haves).
While this story is not necessarily considered to be gory, it is rather violent, bleak, and at times very disturbing (Haves). Halas himself stated that the film was targeted at adults rather than children (Cohen). Along with this statement, Halas also remarked that the plot needed to be simplified (Cohen).